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One day after guilty plea in cyberstalking, Henson resigns

State Rep. Cody Henson announced his resignation from the state House on Wednesday, one day after entering a guilty plea  to one count of cyberstalking in Transylvania County District Court. Henson accepted an agreement with the North Carolina Department of Justice for deferred prosecution and 18 months of probation.

 

“I realize I was overly zealous in trying to save my marriage and mistakes were made,” Henson said Wednesday on his Facebook page. “I had no intention of hurting anyone, including my estranged wife. Many of the statements made in court yesterday by the assistant attorney general and circulated by the media were based on false and unsubstantiated claims by my estranged wife. However, I do not wish to rehash this any further. That matter is settled.”

As part of the agreement, Henson will have to obtain a mental health assessment and follow up treatment, complete a domestic violence abuser treatment class and complete a substance misuse assessment and follow up treatment. He will also be denied access to firearms throughout his probation. He already is under a domestic violence order of protection that prevents him having continued contact with his estranged wife, Kelsey Meece.

Henson, who is in his second term in the North Carolina House of Representatives, said earlier this year that he would not seek reelection in 2020.

Because the plea agreement is a deferred prosecution, if Henson successfully completes his probation and the requirements for assessment and treatment, the misdemeanor charge would be dismissed. The court set July 28, 2020, for Henson to reappear in consideration of that dismissal. His initial 12 months of probation will be supervised, but if he completes all requirements, the judge can make his final six months of probation unsupervised, Department of Justice spokesperson Laura Brewer told Carolina Public Press.
Meece addressed the court about her understanding of the plea agreement, to which she did not object. “For me, this process has been exhausting,” she said. “Our marriage was a nightmare. There were lies, infidelity, manipulation and the list goes on. I don’t want to rehash and relive the past but Cody has put me through pure hell and made me feel completely powerless and trapped.”

She has previously described frustrations with trying to navigate the legal system in a county where her husband is a powerful political figure. At one point a magistrate refused to help her after looking up her husband online, she previously told CPP.

“He was able to insert himself into my life and my head whenever he wanted, no matter how much I begged and pleaded for him to stop,” she said. “But this narrative changes today.”

Meece claimed victory, saying she was “beating the odds and facing the giants to take her life back.” “Despite every effort by Cody, his family, and the deep-seated, right-wing brotherhood that controls this county and state, I am still here.” she said.

Asked by CPP Tuesday afternoon for comment about Henson’s continued presence in the General Assembly, NC House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, declined to comment and said he wants to review the plea agreement first. Less than 24 hours later, Henson announced his resignation, though he had said earlier he planned to serve the remainder of his term.

Meece’s statement to the court described her personal struggle against the system of which she saw Rep. Henson as a part. “I am still fighting,” she said. “And they are not able to silence me any longer. I have gone from being homeless at 6 months pregnant with a 2-year-old to being a completely independent, strong, and capable woman. I am focused on reaching my goals and giving my children the amazing life they deserve. I wish Cody all the best and I hope he has a great life and can be a good father for our children. But I am walking away and washing me hands of every piece of control he once had over me, not because he didn’t realize my worth and value but because I finally realized my own.”

Assistant N.C. Attorney General Boz Zellinger handled prosecution of Henson when the District Attorney Greg Newman recused himself, citing his previous political support of Henson. Zellinger told the court on Tuesday that the state agreed to the conditions of the settlement in large part because Kelsey Henson wanted Rep. Henson to get personal help so that he could be involved in the lives of their two children.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Meece told CPP that the outcome was not something she foresaw as she sought help early this year. “It’s surprising,” she said. She also confirmed her desire for a positive outcome for her two children. “Cody is the father of my children and I want him to get the help he needs to be a good father for them,” she said.

Zellinger also described Cody Henson’s erratic behavior since 2017. Zellinger said that in one case he had screamed at Kelsey and threw a full beer can at her in front of their son while she was pregnant. He told her that he was a trained killer, referring to his military experience, and bragged that he would have a team of lawyers behind him due to his political clout, Zellinger told the court. He posted pictures of his guns to social media after one heated argument with his wife. After they broke up, he repeatedly texted her at all hours despite being asked to stop and made disturbing threats, Zellinger said.
Henson’s guilty plea did not contest the allegations, but it also did not enumerate admission to specific details. Edney, who is also a Henderson County commissioner, provided a written statement after the court hearing. “In entering the agreement, Rep. Henson does acknowledge, in hindsight, that he was overly zealous in his attempts to save his marriage," the statement said. "He does not regret attempting to keep his family intact, but does now see that his methods were wrong.”

Tuesday’s hearing brought an end to a series of repeated continuances in the case, following Henson’s first appearance in March. With the General Assembly in session, Henson was not present for his previous hearing dates in May 8, June 27 and July 9, but each time the request for a continuance was granted. Following the most recent continuance on July 9, Edney told CPP that his client “was needed in Raleigh.” Henson then skipped a House vote on domestic violence orders of protection the following day.

When reporters outside the courthouse asked when Henson would be leaving the building, Edney said that the legislator was “already gone.” However, Carolina Public Press quickly confirmed with courthouse security that this was untrue and Henson was filling out paperwork for his probation inside the Transylvania clerk’s office.

When Henson emerged, he quickly walked away across the parking lot, repeatedly telling reporters to look at the statement from his attorney and declining to provide any other answers.

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Carolina Public Press capital bureau chief Kirk Ross and lead investigative reporter Kate Martin contributed to this report.